I have been feasting this month on Pacific Rose, Opal, and Piñata apples.
These three millennial varieties bring something long absent to the table: flavor. They are part of the leading edge of what I hope will prove to be a long-term trend towards taste.
Don't get me wrong: You could always get flavorful varieties at orchards, if you know where to go. Here's what I mean in terms of supermarket apples (North America version).
50s, 60s: Any apple you like, as long as it's Delicious. The age of the Red and Golden Delicious duopoly, leavened perhaps by maverick Granny Smith and some regional favorites like Cortland and McIntosh.
70s, 80s: Enter Gala, Fuji, Braeburn and a few others. This cohort seems to have perfected apples that are hard, crisp, and very sweet. Flavor? Not so much, or at least, not so very different the one from the other.
I find the Braeburn generation repetitive and derivative of each other, circling tightly around the same center of gravity, but they are popular. Growers have taken to reintroducing them under new names periodically, such as Kiku, Joburn, and Mahana Red.
The Oughts: Now things get tasty. In order of seniority: Pacific Rose was patented in 1992 under the name Sciros, though it took a while to get to New England. The Rose bears some interesting if elusive tropical-fruit flavor notes.
A good Piñata (2000, Pinova) is similarly tropical, with distinctive honey, pineapple, and banana flavors.
Opal (2004, "UEB 3264/2") is, by a hair, the less sweet and more sophisticated of the three. This gem bears flavors of honey, vanilla, and spice.
Jazz (2003, Scifresh), arguably belongs to this group too. It somehow beat the older Pacific Rose into the wholesale markets here by half a decade.
None are American-bred varieties and all are still scarce here, though they seem to be more available every year.
This gang of fruit does not fall far from the tree in terms of hard, durable crunch and high sugar content. Where they differ from their forebears is by having distinctive tastes.
There are other flavorful newcomers, such as Junami, that I might have mentioned as well.
One moment does not make a trend, but we have since seen Sweetango, with unusual flavors that include malt, maple, honey, spice, and carrot.
Sweetango's exceptional and appealing texture is a further break with the Braeburn consensus. Where a Braeburn or Jazz can be jawbreaker hard, the flamboyant crunch of a Sweetango is more friable, like that of Honeycrisp or Mcintosh.
Other flavorful varieties that are even newer include Koru (clove!) and diminutive Rockit, both of which seem to be on a marketing trajectory to your supermarket someday.
I am rooting for this flavor thing to continue.
Of course there are many tasty varieties that aren't on course to crack the wholesale ceiling. You can snag them at orchards and farmers markets in the fall.
In that context I feel compelled to name Topaz, the excellent and tart (though still plenty sweet) pollen parent of Opal. Wouldn't it be great if Granny had a kindred spirit in the pantheon of apples you could buy in supermarkets?